Early California Engine Found

California  Engine

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1155 Carpenter Canyon Road Arroyo Grande, CA 93420

Recently, I had one of those experiences that every engine collector dreams about and I would like to share it with the readers in hopes that they too may never give up the quest for those old rusty pieces of iron that are still waiting to be discovered.

I had been enjoying a relaxful week-end, engrossed in one of my many hobbies which is buying, selling and trading antique bottles. The annual antique bottle shows are the places to get together once a year with old friends and acquaintances of some 20 years of collecting.

During the course of Sunday afternoon sales, I was pleased to see the presence of an old bottle collector friend from the Salinas Valley area. After the usual chit-chat about antique bottle finds for the year, I mentioned that I would sure like to trade some good 'ole rare' bottles for an 'ole rare' gas engine, and did he by any chance know of any around his old ranches. He casually mentioned that he had some 'old thing' on one of his ranches that people had been after him to sell, but he really had no desire to part with it but maybe for a good 'ole rare' bottle we could do business.

I nonchalantly continued to question him about what kind it may be, secretly hoping that it would be one of those lost early California works of art rather than the rusty remains of an extremely common clunker. Unfortunately, all that he could remember about it was that it may have said 'union' San Francisco on the side, but he wasn't positive.

Naturally, my heart skipped a small beat and I tried to calmly react in a non-interested manner and shortly thereafter, we agreed that some day in the future we could get together and look at it.

Monday morning at 8:05, I called his ranch which is about 100 miles from mine and casually mentioned that today would be a good day for me what about him? Hoping desperately that I wouldn't seem too eager, I was greatly disappointed when he declined with the explanation that he would be in another city all day. Well, I knew for sure that I had blown it, so I halfheartedly mentioned, 'Well, how about later in the week,' and he said, 'well, call first.'

For the next couple of days, I moped around thinking that I had blown the find of the century and would probably never get to see the engine whatever it was.

Thursday morning I pulled myself together and decided to give it another try. To my utter amazement, he agreed to meet me at 2:00 that afternoon and proceed up into the mountains to the abandoned homestead for a glimpse of the relic.

At noon, I finally got away from a busy work schedule and together with my good friend and fellow engine collector, Jim, we hurried to the prearranged meeting. We were about 15 minutes late to the rendezvous; however, shortly thereafter we were winding our way up into the mountains west of Salinas.

After a locked gate and a dirt road, we arrived at what has to be one of the most beautiful old abandoned farm houses in California nestled in a grassy canyon with old fences and barns.

We drove around to the back of the corral and all got out. I became so involved with the old place, with its fantastic overview of the Salinas Valley, that I momentarily forgot about what we had come to see.

Shortly, thereafter, we were led to a section of corral fence that was being supported by a pile of old lumber out of which was protruding the top of a rusty flywheel. Sure enough, it was the remains of a 2 or 3 HP vertical engine. There appeared to only be a crank case and flywheel with crank shaft sitting on a large iron base.

As we were all standing around swapping tales, my hopes were diminishing as I was starting to realize that even though we could have had a real prize, there wasn't much hope for it other than maybe spare parts.

About that time, the owner said, 'by the way, the rest of this thing is over in the dump in the gully about 200 yards from here, but we'll have to dig it up.' Almost instantly, I was in full swing again with rapid pulse and heavy breathing. Could it be that we could find at least the cylinder? Perhaps I could machine the rest.

A few minutes later we were all three digging in the ravine full of 1950's garbage. As the story went, the cylinder had been robbed of all brass and discarded in the gulch several years earlier on a clean-up campaign. As one hour rolled into the second hour, my doubts were starting to reoccurwe had dug up almost three-quarters of the dump, yet not a sign of any metal, especially a 250 pound cylinder.

To make things worse, we had been digging downwind of a recently discarded decomposed carcass of a cow. Finally, I had had enough of the smell, and went upwind of it and, grabbing part of the leg, dragged it out of the way enough so as not to be directly downwind.

Still no metal that went to the engine had surfaced and as further doubt began to spread among us, I jokingly thought to myself that if, in fact, the cylinder were there, and had not been carted off for another use in earlier years, it would undoubtedly be located directly below where the decomposed cow had been.

Ten minutes later, that thought came true when we hit pay dirt directly under where the decomposed carcass had been. It turned out to be even better than I had hoped for. The cylinder still had the piston and connecting rod in it. Also, the cylinder head was intact along with the exhaust valve cage. Last of all, and to my astonishment, even the wipe spark igniter was complete inside of the combustion chamber.

It was indeed a dream come true and after we had the parts loaded, and the deal squared with the rancher, Jim and I had plenty to talk about on the trip home.

After studying the engine for some time now, and reading about it in a gas engine book, I'm ready to tackle the restoration. I'm only missing the exhaust push rod mechanism, the brass water jacket covers and the connecting rod bearing. There are even traces of the original striping and the color under one of the bolts is bright red.

I would dearly like to correspond with any fellow engine buff who may have one of these pre-1900 relics and could give me any tips on its mechanical wizardry. Even though it's a very simple two-cycle vapor engine, the exhaust valve push rod mechanism appears to have been an engineering marvel. Any information at all will be deeply appreciated.

Good luck to all you fellow iron hunters out there and I sincerely hope that any of you who have never had the thrill of a good old time engine find will have one this summer.